South Seattle Emerald: Tell me a little bit about yourself. What made you decide to challenge the incumbent, Congressman Smith?
Sarah Smith: I help manage a mechanic garage in downtown Renton. I have a lot of interaction with a lot of different people, especially politically, and they all know what I am doing, so they love to come talk to me about politics.
I still don’t know who nominated me. I told them not to tell me. …I went back and forth with my husband, because it’s a big decision. It’s a huge decision, especially for working class people. …I am actually still working full-time, while I campaign. [My husband] got me to do it. …he said, “If the ballot were to come today, would you vote for Adam Smith?”
I said, “It would depend on who else is on the ballot.”
And he said, “Okay. Then be who else is on the ballot.”
My biggest grief with Adam right now is he drags his feet on everything. And everyone tries to call it evolution, but it’s not an evolution of his stances. He is trying to keep his seat and stay in power because all this legislation he’s saying he supports – he’s had 22 years in office to do something about it. He’s had 22 years in office to be a champion for these things. … He didn’t have to wait for [Democratic Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal] to put that immigration bill on the table. He didn’t have to wait for my candidacy to say that he supports Medicare for all. He didn’t have to wait for any of these things. But he did.
Emerald: What about politics makes it difficult for working class people to run?
Smith: It is, far and away, hugely expensive, and I don’t just mean in terms of money. I mean in terms of manpower, of mental energy. If I didn’t have the strong volunteers I do, if I didn’t have the amazing, voluntarily unpaid leadership I do, if my husband didn’t step on board and pick up some of the slack for me, it would be impossible. I never could have done it.
A typical day for me is I wake up at about 5 [a.m.]. I am responding to emails, I’m responding to Twitter messages, I’m responding to Facebook messages…I’m doing this while I am getting ready for work, and then I am out the door. I am at work by 6:50. I help prep the garage for my full work day. On my lunch break, I am out back coordinating with volunteers. I am delegating what needs to be done. I leave work at 4 [p.m.], and I either go right to an event, right to an interview, or we go [to the office] and we take care of strategy stuff. …I’ll usually do two interviews in a day, if I can. I don’t go to bed until probably 10 or 11 [at night].
[Running] is prohibitively expensive. I can’t afford to not take a salary. …I have to meet my financial obligations. But I also have to be able to meet my obligations to what I want to do. I want to be able to represent people, to meet people, to be in the community.
It’s hard, and it’s taxing, and it’s expensive. But, to me, all of that is still worth it. …This is a goal that is lofty and noble, but it’s a goal worth achieving. And nothing worth doing is going to be easy, so somebody has to take those hard steps forward. And if I have the ability to, then I can, and I should, and I must.
Emerald: What sets you apart from Adam Smith, when it comes to representing the people of the South End?
Smith: I live in a neighborhood full of people trying to make ends meet. …I live the way that my constituents live. My husband and I looked at our budget not even two weeks ago, and we realized we’re spending too much on groceries, and we have to scale back. We are constantly budgeting and re-budgeting.
We have had roommates, up until three months ago, because we couldn’t pay the bill. It was just too expensive. It’s not just my story, it’s everybody’s story. It’s the story of the new working class. It’s the story of the largest workforce in the country.
If you haven’t lived in a post-Recession America, if you haven’t been a working class person in a post-Recession America, it isn’t possible to understand what those struggles are like, and what those sacrifices are that you have to make.
Emerald: What are your policy stances on national and local issues?
Smith: I am very pro-women’s rights. I am absolutely pro-choice. I am very much in favor of mandated paid family leave. I also want to see state-sponsored child care programs, and government-sponsored child care programs. I am pro-Medicare for all – but that’s got to be a no-brainer, if you’re a progressive now. If you’re a progressive now, who is not for Medicare for all, I think you maybe need to take a step back.
I am very much in favor of a student debt bailout. I am very much in favor of a…tax that specifically can be used for debt-free education that can be used…all the way up through vocational school, technical schools, college. I am very much in favor of…pulling oil subsidies, and starting to invest in green energy. …I am also very much anti-interventionist wars. I am all about shifting our military perspective from a combative perspective to a humanitarian perspective.
As for local issues – oh, my goodness. …I am pro-head tax, in the sense that I think we have a lot of opportunity to add something like that to the taxation system for corporations in this area, and we just need to make sure that when we are pushing something it also recognizes medium-sized businesses and small businesses, and their contributions around the state, and make sure we are not unfairly punishing those businesses.
I am frustrated by the Sound Transit 3. I think the location we have chosen for Sound Transit 3 disadvantages working people who really need public transportation, who really rely on public transportation. I think it’s particularly frustrating that [the City of Seattle] is trying to put $148 million into a new stadium, when we have people sleeping on the streets, when we have people who can’t get to work, when they can’t stay in their homes.
I think the gentrification and pricing people out is the result of a combination of different [things]. I think it’s an effect, not a cause. I think people are being priced out, because cost of living is skyrocketing. A $15 per hour minimum wage is great, but it’s not enough, not in our city.
Emerald: What issues do you see constituents in the South End facing that others in Seattle do not?
Smith: When we are out canvassing, the things that resonate with people the most are revitalizing our K-12 education system…and making sure we have state-sponsored child care, because a lot of them are working class. …I’ve run into a lot of single parents who really need help, and who can’t get ahead…they are really concerned about single-payer healthcare. People either pay astronomical amounts to their [employers] for private health care, or they have nothing, or they are on supplementary programs.
We also talk a lot about infrastructure in the area, particularly in the Columbia City area, where it’s a high-traffic area, but we can’t rebuild the roads enough to keep up with the amount of traffic that goes through there now. …We could totally rehabilitate that area.
Emerald: If you’re elected, how would you work to change conditions for your constituents in the South End?
Smith: I don’t go into meetings ready to roll over. I don’t approach policies looking at what I can give up for people, because it’s not about what we’re giving up. It’s about what we’re working to fight for. I have a lot of fight, and I have a lot of fire…I will hammer down those doors, until Congress can’t ignore us anymore. We are here, and we matter…if I have to die on that hill, I will.
This interview was condensed and edited for clarity.